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Werk ohne Autor (2018)
Succeeds in all major aspects of moviemaking
Director Donnersmarck's screenplay, loosely based on the life
of German Painter Gerhard Richter,
kept my interest throughout its
three-plus hour runtime. Although it is not well advertised,
the story presents one of the most affecting
love stories I have seen. The relationship between Kurt Barnert
(the fictionalized Richter) and Ellie Seeband (his love interest and
eventual wife) is delicately set forth, particularly in the early blossoming
of their romance. As their love matures we are given some
tastefully presented, fairly explicit, sex scenes. Donnersmarck and
his actors are not shy about nudity on the screen.
The opening scene takes place at the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Dresden in 1937 where Barnert/Richter (age five) and his aunt are in attendance. This exhibit was assembled by the Nazis to showcase what they considered immoral art that did not "elevate the soul." It's laughable to think about the Nazis pontificating on morality. This theme of the interaction between art, morality, and politics is carried throughout the forty year time span of the movie. During the time that Barnert was living in the GDR he was expected to depict scenes about hardworking citizens. In one art class the students were to draw from models with the male shouldering a sledge hammer and the female holding up a sheaf of wheat. Interesting that art, morality, and politics are still debated. For example, I am thinking of Serrano's "Piss Christ" and Mapplethorpe's "The Perfect Moment" exhibit.
Fortunately Kurt and Ellie ultimately escape to the West. I knew that the Berlin Wall went up to keep the East Germans from fleeing to the West, but, as shown here, it was fairly easy to escape to the West before the Wall went up.
The story strays from the facts of Richter's life for dramatic effect on occasion. In an intriguing plot twist Ellie's father is shown, in his capacity as a Nazi medical doctor, to be responsible for the ultimate extermination of Kurt's aunt. Also, Kurt winds up at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art while the Academy was under the direction of Professor Antonius van Verten--a fictional stand-in for real life Joseph Beuys. The movie promotes the myth concerning Verten/Beuys of his having been shot down in Crimea during WWII and saved by Tartars.
Donnersmark has assembled an able cast. Cai Cohrs, playing Barnert at age 7, had the ability to portray intense absorption in his surroundings, giving a hint as to his ultimate development as an artist. Sebastian Koch is perfect in his portrayal of Professor Seaband, a stiff, aloof Nazi. After the war you see that Seeband had not adapted his personality just to being a good Nazi, rather he was ideally suited to being a Nazi; this worked well for him in the GDR as well. Seeband was capable of evil deeds even after the War. I had never seen Oliver Masucci, who played van Verten, and I was impressed with his ability to capture my attention just in his speaking parts. The women, Saskia Rosendahl as Kurt's aunt, and Paula Beer, as Kurt's love interest, were up to their parts. I would like to have seen Tom Schilling, as Kurt, show a little more intensity, following up on Cohrs' lead.
Much time is devoted to showing Kurt's struggle to find his métier. His initial breakthrough was to start with photo realism and overpaint with some simple full brush strokes. Of course this movie has you asking, "What is Art." As an example, the simple overpainting of a photo image adds an indefinable mystery to the original. Is the original photo not art, but the overpainted one is?
The sound is closely miked. You don't miss door closing, the wind in trees, car motors, sheets rustling, and so forth. The score borders on being intrusive at times, but I really liked the low bass notes that accompanied the love scenes.
This was nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography. The camera work is not flashy but effective. After finding out about the Oscar nomination and watching the movie a second time with an eye toward the color palette, composition, and lighting it is easy to see the justification for the Oscar nomination. Between the sound and lighting the style reminded me a bit of Terrence Malick.
When the final product is of such high quality credit has to be given to the director.
Boy Erased (2018)
Educational for anyone unfamiliar with the topic.
Some time ago I had read that the American Psychiatric Association
had declared its opposition to any practice that attempts to change
sexual orientation. Their opinion was based on lack of evidence that
it can work. In fact there is
evidence that such therapy can cause harm and this movie
gives an account of that downside. Somehow I had the idea that this practice
had been banned, at least as applied to minors. So, I was surprised
that the end comments in the movie stated that reparative therapy was
still legal in 36 states (as of 2018).
The movie starts out following Jared (Lucas Hedges) and his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) on a long drive from Arkansas to a therapy center called Love in Action. Checking in had all the feeling of checking in to a prison. The daily schedule was regimented under the command of one Victor Sykes who had all of the attributes of a drill sergeant. In his first lecture he attempts to comfort his group by propounding the lie that sexual orientation is a choice. He supports this thesis by asking one of attendees if he had chosen to be a football player and when he got a "yes" for an answer he notes that it is just so that one chooses their sexual orientation. Since this story is based on real life experiences I guess such absurd reasoning is offered up in such places.
I felt that the film editing could have been better. When we first meet Jared's father Marshall (Russell Crowe) he is delivering a sermon at a church and it's quite a bit later that we are shown that he is the owner of a car dealership. The movie hops back and forth in a manner that confused me. The first scene has Jared already at the therapy center, then there are some scenes of Jared as a college student living in a dorm, then Jared is back living at home. And there was a scene from Jared's being on his high school basketball team mixed in there as well. I did not see any particular value in the out-of-sequence filming.
The way that Jared's sexuality was outed to his parents did not make sense to me. Jared was raped in his dorm room by his running buddy Michael in a chilling scene that is difficult to watch. After that event Michael calls Jared's home one night and, pretending to be a counselor at the school, reports on Jared's sexual activity and this precipitates his parent's sending him to Love in Action. I don't understand Michael's motivation here in one of the pivotal events of the movie.
The acting is uniformly good. Russell Crowe is surprisingly effective as Jared's rather portly father. This role has Crowe a long way from "Gladiator." Hedges turns in another fine performance, but I felt he was weakest in the highly charged final scene with his father. There are some good lines in that scene like Jared's, "I'm gay and I'm your son, and neither of those things is going to change." OK, so he had tearful eyes, but he was lacking a convincing passion. Flea, as Sykes's toady, Brandon, is truly creepy. I know nothing about Flea, but if his Brandon is a creation of acting, my hat is off to him.
I think Jared may have gotten off easy, since his commitment was for only two weeks, during which time he was able to conclude that the treatment he was being subjected to was hogwash. And he was able to leave every night to be with his mother. But it was noted that Sykes would have the power to recommend a one year follow-up treatment that, if effected, looked to have the flavor of being inducted into a cult. In a punch to the gut in the commentaries at the end it was stated that the real life person that Sykes played in the movie had left Love in Action as was married to a man. One can only guess at the complex psychology of such a man--denial on steroids?
Any person, parent or child, who is thinking of having anything to do with conversion therapy could benefit from seeing this movie.
The Rider (2017)
Small film packs a punch
This is the story of Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau),
who is trying to rebuild his life after suffering a near fatal head
injury in a saddle bronc riding event in a rodeo. There
are enough themes here to fuel many movies: family, friendship, self
worth, acceptance, personal passion, peer pressure, male identity,
cowboy life. This movie gets into Brady's life so intimately that
it is hard not to identify with him, especially if you have had
events that have redirected your life in unexpected and unwelcome
ways (and who has not?)
All of the actors are non-professionals, in fact the story is a slight fictionalization of the life of Brady Jandreau. Appearing with Jandreau are his real life father and autistic sister. All of this adds up to a realism that makes this film almost a documentary. I never felt any awkwardness that I frequently experience when watching inexperienced actors.
There are many memorable scenes. There is a sequence that has Jandreau in a ring taming a wild horse. That scene must have been hell to film, since the camera is right in there. That scene takes advantage of Jandreau's being a horse trainer in real life--I think no actor could have pulled it off.
Cinematographer Joshua James Richards deserves much credit for capturing some stunningly beautiful, melancholy shots taken in the South Dakota Badlands. Much of the movie is filmed in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The scenes having Brady walking by himself in vast open spaces accentuate his lonely struggle.
The scenes that have Brady visiting his physically damaged friend in a rehab center were almost too painful for me to watch.
Brady's dad talked about playing the hand you are dealt in life-- it looked like he was poorly playing a poor hand, but you could understand him without being too judgmental. A lot of the people in this movie seem to have been dealt poor hands.
The score is effective but unobtrusive.
This is a small movie that punches way above its weight.
The Glass Castle (2017)
Truth or fiction?
This is based on a memoir by Jeannette Walls and, given that,
I would expect most scenes to be believable.
However, I found it hard to believe that things
happened as presented in so many scenes.
For examle, early on Jeanette's family (father Rex, mother Rose, and their four young daughters) is travelling in an old beat-up 1955 Ford when Rex decides give vent to some sense of defiant freedom by veering off the road, crashing through a fence and hooting and hollering as he drives hundreds of yards into a dessicated southwestern landscape. Having gotten his family stuck in the middle of nowhere Rex says how great it is--they can camp out there and have a great view of the stars when the sun goes down. In the meantime Rose has found a fascinating Joshua tree that, being an artist, she must paint immediately. How would such a scene ultimately end? Somehow they would have to get the car out of there and have it repaired--at what price freedom, huh? And, in their apparent destitution, where will they get the money to get the car back on the highway? This scene set the mood for the whole movie for me, showing Rex to be an irresponsible ass with some idealistic sense of freedom that allows him to put himself above less liberated souls. And this is Rex at his best, he only gets worse as the movie goes along and we become familiar with the depths of his alcoholism.
I give the movie credit in its convincing presentation of Rex as being a troubled drunk with little redeeming value. What I could not understand was how any of his family could tolerate him for a second. However he apparently had some quality that the family on occassion would find appealing, a quality that was totally lost on me. Unfortunately for my being able to appreciate this movie, Rex's appeal was at the heart of the family dynamic.
Most all scenes are amped up for maximum emotional response and the music cues us as to how we should respond. In one scene Rex returns home from a drunk with a six inch gash in his arm and he coaches his daughter to put in stitches while he braves the pain with no anesthetic. Really? No antiseptic even? What does Rex do when he turns up with a major infection? He could not possibly lower himself to go to an emergency room in a hospital that is there primarily to put money into the pockets of rich doctors.
In an emotional final scene Rex presents Jeanette with a scrap book where he has saved every piece of her writing. Given the total chaos of the family's vagabond lifestyle and Rex's inability to focus on anything long enough to push it through, introducing this unbelievable scrap book antic for a purely emotional punch at the end of Rex's life was insulting to me.
For a movie that is supposed to be somewhat autobiographical this had more the feeling of fiction than of truth.
Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja (2017)
I liked the music
This story of a young Korean woman, Young-hee, trying to come
to terms with breaking up
with her lover never rose above the pedestrian for me. There is
essentially no action beyond conversation. After her breakup
Young-hee goes to
Germany to visit her friend Jee-young. A good part of the time spent
with these two friends is concerned with wondering if
Young-hee's lover will show up and
with Young-hee's struggle of being torn between thoughts of her
lover and her desire for independence.
Young-hee returns to Korea where she takes up with some old acquaintances and carries on conversations with them that struck me as conversations typical of interactions among any middle class people. The climactic scene at the dinner table closes with a reading from a Chekhov story. The story was appropriate in context, but that's taking an easy way out isn't it? When you cannot come up with your own writing, fall back on that of a famous writer?
Young-hee is far from likable--on more than one occasion she lashes out bitterly at her companions. Most of the men are pretty much cyphers; it was hard for me to get involved with any of them.
There are some interesting filming techniques. I liked the use of the large camera pans and the shifts in focus. There is a scene that had one of Young-hee's friends picking rocks out of some pounds of dried beans. Maybe this was to show that the guy was subservient to the cafe manager, but it puzzled me as to why so much time would be spent on such a mundane task. Then there are scenes that are just plain odd--like the acrobatic window cleaner who dominated one scene and was there for a purpose that escaped me. And there is the man in a black overcoat whose main scene has him asking for the time of day. What was that all about?
The adagio from Schubert's C-major string quintet accompanies several scenes and did not particularly enhance the emotion of those scenes, beyond being a most beautiful work.
This is my first exposure to director Hong. I have the feeling that he may be an acquired taste--a taste that I have yet to acquire.
A Quiet Passion (2016)
Nicely filmed; stilted dialogue
After having seen several of Terrence Davies' movies, such as
the small gems "The Long Day Closes," and "Of Time and the City," I
was looking forward to seeing what he would do with a film of
broader scope and bigger budget. In "A Quiet Passion" I see many
of the qualities I liked in the smaller films, but cannot
fully embrace the new movie.
One positive is the cinematography. The timeframe for this biography of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) places it prior to the time that electric lighting was common, so all of the interior shots at night are filmed with candlelight, lamps, or fireplace fires. This is done extremely well and adds much warmth. One remarkable scene is a full, slow 360 degree pan around a sitting room at night that begins with Emily sitting in a chair and ending with her. That scene really sets the ambience for the Dickinson's home life. Another scene has, instead of an informational card "Twenty years later," the main characters age in place in closeups. Some of the exterior filming was done at the Emily Dickinson Museum. The exterior cinematography is lush, colorful, and pleasing to the eye--Monet would appreciate it.
Another positive is the care that was taken with the period detail. The costuming in particular adds to the authenticity of the feel.
On a less positive note I found the dialog to be stilted. I know the dialog in the given era was probably pretty stiff, but the characters in this movie often spoke in epigrams and bromides rather than normal conversation. Some examples:
Poems are my solace for the eternity which surrounds us all.
Surely vice is only virtue in disguise.
I prefer to remain silent. That way a prejudice doesn't seem like an opinion.
Going to church is like going to Boston. You only enjoy it after you've gotten home.
Cherish you ignorance. You never know when you will need it.
Emily: Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt. Sister Vinnie replies: Perhaps contempt breeds familiarity. I'm not even sure what Vinnie's reply even means, but it is an example of how the script puts cleverness over naturalness.
Normally for a movie that engages me enough to watch it a second time my valuation goes up on second viewing. In this case my regard went down a bit. I was less impressed with the acting. I felt that Cynthia Nixon was not quite up to the task and I kept wondering how a better actress would have handled the role. Dickinson was not a particularly warm and lovable person (as presented), but Nixon did not get me involved to where I could identify with her struggles on an emotional level. Dickinson's descent into isolation and bitterness seemed to be a protective reaction to her being hurt by the loss of family and friends--if you don't have close relationships you can't be hurt by them. Duncan Duff was a dud as Emily's brother. The only actor that impressed me was Keith Carradine as Emily's father.
Nixon reads some of Dickinson's poetry at points where the poems might appropriately apply to the situation at hand. On first viewing I did not fully digest the poems, but was able to better appreciate them on second viewing. It was a good decision to include recitations of Dickinson's poetry to see why she has the reputation she has. There is no lacking of Dickinson's poetry on the web.
In one scene it was revealed that there were at least three servants in the household, but there was not much indication as to how these people entered into the day-to-day activities of the family. Emily's father and brother were lawyers, but there was no more significance made of that rather than a mere mention of it. I would like to have seen more information on how this rather upscale family interacted with the world outside the home.
The musical score was unobtrusive, but added emotional support. It was well chosen in keeping with the 19th century time period. There were a couple of scenes that featured piano playing and I liked the lack of pretense that the actors were actually playing.
Song to Song (2017)
A Bridge too Far for this Malick admirer
Of the thousands of movies I have seen Malick's "The Tree of Life" is
perhaps at the top of my list. It grabbed me and never let up. I have
seen most of Malick's movies and beginning with "The Tree of Life"
he developed a
unique style that he has worked with in his succeeding movies, pushing
it further with each. I liked "To the Wonder" and was still on board
with "Knight of Cups," although neither was nowhere near the masterpiece
that "Tree" was. But with "Song to Song" Malick has pushed the limits of
his style beyond where I can appreciate it--I am hoping that this will
be the last of this experimental film making in this vein.
As usual, the images are captivating. It looks like Malick must drive around and, as soon as he sees something that interests him, he films it (with his consummate talent and taste) and then tries to merge all of the images into some narrative that makes some sense, mainly to him I'm afraid. The trademark closely miked audio, long takes of characters walking around each other, minimal dialog, beautiful people, and nature shots are in evidence.
Music is essential to any Malick movie I have seen and it is puzzling why the music in this movie, that is played against the backdrop of the Austin music scene, did not engage me. Interspersed among the Austin scene are classical segments--Saint-Seans seems a favorite here. The supporting score is highly fragmented, which I suppose is in keeping with the fragmented nature of the story line, but just when I was appreciating a song there was a cut to an unrelated scene.
There are many well known musicians in the cast, playing themselves, such as Iggy Pop, Lykke Li, Sara Quin, Chad Smith. Patti Smith does get some time, both as a character in the story and as a singer.
If there is a coherent story, I missed it. I got the basic love triangle bit, but from there all was obscure. How Cate Blanchett figured into things was a total mystery to me. Was she there simply as a box office draw? The main character, played by Ryan Gosling, is given the name "RV" and I got that only from the closing credits. When I realized that I had entirely missed the boat on the characters was when I saw in the credits two actors listed as being BV's brother. Nowhere did I catch that BV had a brother.
If I were to have turned off trying to make sense of this thing and just sat back an enjoyed the images, there would have been enough here to think this is worthwhile. But, unless you are plugged into Malick's recent vision, you might give this a miss.
Along Came Polly (2004)
Reuben (Ben Stiller) is a straitlaced risk manager who tries to calculate risk in most everything he does. We witness his marriage to Lisa (Debra Messing), but on their honeymoon things go terribly wrong and they separate. Then along comes Polly (Jennifer Aniston) who is played as a disorganized free spirit who can never make decisions. So, the setup is the clichéd one of rigid person being drawn out of his shell by carefree companion.
Philip Seymour Hoffman provides a couple of laughs as Reuben's wacky friend, particularly the scene with him on the basketball court. Hoffman does seem to at least be trying rather than phoning it in, but Ben Stiller plays Reuben as Ben Stiller--he doesn't have much of a range does he? Stiller did have one good scene doing a frenetic salsa dance. Alec Baldwin seems to be there simply as a draw at the box office, since any one of a hundred actors could have played his part as Reuben's boss.
There are several running gags that got old real fast, like Polly's blind pet ferret running into things, Reuben's suffering from irritable bowl syndrome, and Hoffman's falling down on hard floors. The thing that most irritated me was playing Reuben's IBS for laughs--I always have a hard time with physical or mental disabilities being played for laughs. Reuben's bowel problem was cause for a lot of unfunny bathroom humor.
There was hardly a single sharp line of dialog. Seeing this movie and thinking back to the old Cary Grant/Kathryn Hepburn comedies (think "Bringing up Baby") makes me realize just how coarsened and dumbed down our culture has become.
I had better stop here, further consideration my cause me to move my two star rating to one star.
Georgia O'Keeffe (2009)
Life of Georgia O'Keefe, an introduction
Before seeing this movie, whenever I thought of Georgia O'Keefe I pictured this older woman in a studio in Santa Fe painting flowers and stunning landscapes. This movie finally got to my stereotypical image but it filled in details of O'Keefe's rich, varied, long life along the way.
O'Keefe's work had attracted the attention of famed photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz who exhibited some of her work in New York in 1916. A couple of years later O'Keefe moved to New York and the professional relationship with Stieglitz, who was over twenty years older than her, ultimately turned into a personal one resulting in marriage in 1924.
I always have some reservations about how truthful a biographical picture is, particularly in a case like this where, at the time the screenplay was written, O'Keefe had been dead for over twenty years and most of the people in her life had been dead for upward of fifty years. For example, what are we to take away from the scene about the argument that O'Keefe had with Stieglitz regarding her wanting a child and his blunt refusal? Is that pure speculation? Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I assume the general sweep of her life as presented is accurate, and indeed reading the Wikipedia entry for O'Keefe seems to bear this out. For movies based on a true story I often ask myself why not just read the appropriate Wikipedia entry and skip the movie. But, if properly done, it is easier to get involved in a movie and come away with more lasting impressions. It is often the case that a good movie based on a true story, as this one, will prompt me to do some independent research. There is no lack of O'Keefe biographies, video, and art books out there.
In looking at some of the images of O'Keefe, Stieglitz, and Mabel Dodge, the actors playing those parts (Joan Allen, Jeremy Irons, and Tyne Daly) are well cast as to physical appearance and all do good work.
I wish more of O'Keefe's paintings had been tightly woven into the story.
La vie d'Adèle (2013)
Intimate love story, well told.
There is much commonality in most love stories on film, with interest coming mainly from how they are told. I found the telling of this tale of two young women who fall in love to be engaging from several perspectives. First of all I was taken with Adèle Exarchopoulos, the actress who plays Adèle, the protagonist. If you do not respond to her physically or emotionally, then your experience of this movie is likely to be quite different from mine. Léa Seydoux, who plays Emma, Adèle's love interest, was less appealing to me, but was well cast nonetheless.
Adèle's first encounter with Emma was an exchange of casual glances as they walked past each other. I liked that scene, since it was subtly done yet you knew from that first eye contact that these two were destined to be involved in some way. It may not have been love at first sight, but that usually just means sexual attraction at first sight and Adèle and Emma had that.
Director Kechiche had to have been fascinated with Exarchopoulos, given the many ways he filmed her to accentuate her appeal, it's like he couldn't get enough of her. He used her infectious smile to great advantage. A good part of the movie is taken up with closeups of Exarchopoulos and Seydoux.
I liked the way that Adèle did not anguish too much over her sexual identity, a theme that is prominent in a lot of gay themed movies. After some initial experimentation involving men and an attempted contact with a woman, once Emma was on board Adèle knew that she wanted Emma and she never seemed to doubt herself in spite of getting flack from her mates.
Early in their relationship Adèle and Emma are seen engaging in explicitly sexual acts. These scenes have created a lot of buzz, but I think they are essential to the movie, since sexual attraction is what has brought these two women together and, as we get to know them, it is seen that the sexual attraction is going to have to be strong enough to bridge some cultural gaps. Emma comes from a family with liberal parents, a family that delights in eating oysters and drinking fine wine, while Adèle's family is more into table wine and spaghetti with Bolognese sauce. Emma associates with artists, philosophers, actors, and other elites. Emma is so much more experienced and sophisticated than Adèle that I did wonder how this relationship was going to work out, absent the sex. But it was Emma who broke it off, or was she just looking for an excuse to do so? To Adèle's credit she recognized the cultural differences but, in spite of some small intimidation, she felt no need to pretend artistic inclinations. She likes children and, as the movie develops, we see that Adèle does have a natural talent in the classroom in front of small children. There is a scene where Adèle is involved in a group interaction with her class that has the kids so rapt that it reminded me of that fantastic scene in "The 400 Blows" that has the kids attending a Paris puppet show.
The sex scenes are filmed with an appreciation of sculpture. In some scenes I could not quite figure how the women got themselves into the positions they were in. I had the feeling that maybe it was good that these women were lesbian, since finding a man who could satisfy them would be a challenge. It is not a stretch to see how this movie could be played as a love story between heterosexuals, but trying to see how it would work with gay men is more difficult to imagine. At the least male sex scenes would probably not make it past the censors. Apparently neither Exarchopoulos nor Seydoux is a lesbian, so the fact they could get themselves to do the sex scenes amazes me.
This kept my attention for the full three hours.
The Circle (2017)
Worthy subject, weak script
This movie tries for too much. The idea of trying to analyze where high-tech may be taking us is a worthy subject, but the speculations provided did not engage me on a personal level, not did they provide any new insights
Apple, Google, and Facebook are folded into one entity here: The Circle. The building that houses The Circle is a takeoff on Apple's home base and the campus life there is an amalgam of stereotypical scenes from a Google-like campus. Tom Hanks plays the president of The Circle as a conflation of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.
The revolutionary product being developed by the The Circle is called SeeChange; it is a wide screen camera the size of an eyeball that can be trivially mounted anywhere and can broadcast its images to the web. The cultural effect of this product is to have tentacles reaching into all aspects of everyone's life.
The pros and cons of a device such as SeeChange are discussed. The power this device vests in The Circle is frightening: it gives it the power to manipulate opinion by having voluminous data on any one person and then being able to aggregate those data. This would effectively give The Circle the results of instant polling with the ability to push out information to support or confront current trends. Maybe just an exaggeration of what already exists, yes?.
Rather than speculation about an Orwellian future, I think it would have been more engaging to comment on where we are, even though where we are today may look simple minded in a year's time. Where I think the movie is on track is in trying to address the conflict between the power that corporations have and the erosion of privacy, but that's really not a novel idea at this time is it?
A death by harassment is offered as a tragic result of The Circle's new product, so the moral seems to be that the dangers of where we are headed outweigh the benefits. I personally became aware of an unintended invasion of my privacy some years ago when I was having what I thought was a private conversation with a relative who in short order posted a summary of our conversation to his Facebook friends. I am not even on Facebook and I started getting e-mails about how people were offended by things I had said. This illustrated to me the power of social media to cause me to censor my speech even in a private conversation. No matter how you try to protect your privacy, technology reaches deeply into almost every aspect of your life. Think what would happen if the Internet were permanently disabled.
Emma Watson plays Mae, an ordinary woman who gets sucked into the vortex of The Circle's power structure. I did not find Mae to be an interesting or engaging person. Her boyfriend Mercer had some appeal, but Emma dumped him early on. For this story to work we need to identify with Mae and her life. The reason "1984" was effective was because the two main characters are presented in a way to make you identify with their struggle at a gut level. In this movie I was not made to care much about Mae--her struggle was an abstraction.
I give this movie marks for taking on an important subject but have to rate it poorly on providing much depth.
Queen of Katwe (2016)
Fails to realize its potential.
This is the story of Phiona Mutesi, an accomplished young Ugandan chess player. The story follows the standard script of inspiring sports story where the underdog meets competition and succeeds, but not without overcoming many obstacles. One of the biggest obstacles Phiona had to overcome, and what makes this a remarkable story, is her having been born and raised in Katwe, a slum in the City of Kampala.
The dialog offers little by way of surprise. After Phiona loses a crucial match she expresses self-doubt and questions whether she should go on. Interacting with her coach after the loss, in a scene with a strong emotional buildup, her coach delivers the tired line, "You must never surrender."
I appreciated this having been filmed on location in Uganda. The bright colors are a delight to the eye. The costumes make a vivid impression, from the women's dresses to the more subtle intricate designs and colors of the men's shirts. The little insight into what life looks like in a Kampala slum is something I would never otherwise have gotten. I would like to have seen more of the daily life in Katwe.
Using non-professional actors for many of the roles worked two ways for me, it added authenticity at the expense of stilted acting.
In all movies "based on a true story" I always have a question as to just how many liberties were taken for audience appeal. This movie may have pushed the envelop--it tries to extract every last drop of emotion. The overt attempt to manipulate drains the true emotional content. A little research reveals that Mutesi's chess playing is not of the prodigy caliber as portrayed; her ranking by the World Chess Federation among active players is around 90,000. Her apparent financial success, as represented by her buying a nice house for her mother, could not have come from her chess wins, since any major money from tournament wins is awarded only to the very top players. The celebration of her last win make it look like it was for a national holiday. Is chess really that popular in Uganda? All of the exaggeration is not to take away from Mutesi's achievements that are extraordinary given her background and living conditions.
There are lots of chess-related movies out there (Google "chess movies") and, of the half dozen or so I have seen, my favorite is "Searching for Bobby Fischer."
A nagy füzet (2013)
A well told story, a well made film
(Spoilers) After a couple of brief flashbacks, the story begins in Hungary in August, 1944. To wait out the war in a safer environment, twelve-year-old twin brothers have been sent from a comfortable urban apartment to their grandmother's farm on the Austrian border. Harsh would be a kind description of granny--on their first night the boys are left outside in the cold until they work around the farm to earn any privileges, like being inside.
This is not a war movie as such, but rather about the effects war has on people and the parlous moral climate that prevails. While there are some brief war-related scenes, like Jews being marched out of town and there being a nearby concentration camp, the emphasis is on what the boys are experiencing and how they react. During the course of the film, seeing what is going on around them, the boys implement a survivalist strategy by trying to toughen themselves physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Blackmail, theft, lying, and violent revenge are in their repertoire. War has turned decent, happy boys into amoral survivalists--their gradual transformation is skillfully presented.
One cavil: the boys' physical appearance does not deteriorate as much as it would have in the time frame before they meet the priest's helper who helps care for them--they are never what one would call scruffy. If the movie could have provided smells it would have been distinctly more unpleasant than it is.
Attention is paid to the complexity of human behavior. Stereotypes are avoided. The story goes in unexpected directions. Not all affirmative feeling is drained from the boys, they respond warmly to a Jewish cobbler who gives them a pair of shoes, and they befriend a neighbor girl, whom they call Harelip, who teaches them about theft. The boys participate in one instance of assisted suicide, out of compassion, and another that is problematic. By the end we see that the boys are capable of pretty much anything. The betrayal of the father in the final act is shocking. Or, given the rotten emotional and physical shape the father is in, as well as his status as an ex-soldier, was their act one of mercy?
One of the most sympathetic characters is a German SS officer who takes to the boys, there being more than a hint of a sexual undercurrent in his liking of them. This officer runs counter to any preconceived image. He wears a neck brace that prevents him from turning his head. The officer's relationship with the boys is presented in a positive light--in fact he saves the boys from being beaten in an attack that could have resulted in their death. Is pedophilia always bad? Is what the officer did to stop the attack condemnable? An example of how the movie poses moral dilemmas.
I confess that my knowledge of Hungarian history during the was is a little weak. I understood that Hungary fought on the side of the axis powers, so I was confused by how the Nazis were clearly an occupying force. A brief reading of Wikipedia on the matter is clarifying. One of the most poignant scenes has Harelip waving to the Russian "liberators" as they approach the village; they pick her up on their tank. This scene is brilliantly filmed as the tanks are initially seen in the distance and gradually approach the happy girl in real time. Later we see what the Russians did to Harelip.
Independent of its absorbing story I was struck by what an accomplished piece of film making this is. I found the two boys (twins in real life) to be believable. Piroska Molnár as the grandmother, is perfectly cast. High production values prevail. I found the spare, edgy score to be highly effective.
This movie had me questioning the morality of almost all actions. Viewed from one angle I could understand the motivations and even sympathize with what transpired. On the other hand, in a non-war setting the behaviors would be considered reprehensible. War complicates moral judgments. The use of atomic weapons at the end of WWII is still being debated over seventy years later.
The twins are presented as being inseparable from birth, so I was puzzled by their decision to part ways at the end of the movie. They could see what was happening around them, for example having suffered a physical beating that no amount of their training could have prepared them for. Their father wanted out, so why didn't both boys decide to leave the country? I would like to see two sequels to this movie, movies that follow each of the two boys in the years after the war.
Deux jours, une nuit (2014)
Given the premise of this story I think most people could come up with a script to equal or surpass the one in this movie. The premise has a boss of seventeen blue-collar employees present them with the decision to forgo their bonuses in favor of not laying off a particular woman. That woman is Sandra (Marion Cotillard) whom we get to know throughout the movie. Sandra is recovering from an episode of depression and is just coming back to work, only to find out about the vote where the majority of employees voted to keep their bonuses. That would send most any person into a depression, so Sandra is indeed in a tough situation, given her already delicate emotional state. Also, she has a husband and two young children and losing her job would have a devastating effect on the family.
Feeling that her foreman had biased the vote by telling people that even if Sandra were saved, someone else would be fired, Sandra appeals to the big boss for a re-vote, and that is granted. From there the movie slips into low gear as Sandra tracks down her fellow employees and tries to convince them to vote in her favor. One after another we see her finding out where her colleagues live and going to their homes. She is seen, in *long* takes, walking, riding the bus, and being driven by her husband to the homes. What develops is pretty predictable. Some workers are swayed and some just feel that, given their situation, they cannot give up the bonuses they had worked for. We see how lower middle class people have a hard time of it and how varied their situations are.
I guess that there are some bosses dumb enough to set up a situation like the one portrayed here. The way these decisions are usually handled is to make the proposition of forfeiting bonuses, or raises, in favor of keeping all the staff on board, rather than signaling out a specific employee. Some things did point to why Sandra might have been singled out though. She had been on sick leave for depression with her ability to function in question, and the remaining employees could take up the slack in her absence. I got the feeling that Sandra was not particularly well liked and was surprised by how little she knew about her fellow employees, particularly given there were only sixteen others for her to know. It's not surprising that this situation produced a lot of strong emotional reactions--jobs and money strike at the heart of people's lives.
I like Marion Cotillard and feel she was good in this difficult role. Given that she is portraying a woman recovering from depression she has few highly dramatic scenes, so to appreciate her performance you have to key on her subtle reactions. The movie illustrates the difficulty in dealing with a depressed person and I vacillated between being irritated with Sandra's husband and his apparent insensitivity by goading his wife into painful situations that could easily send her back into full-scale depression. But then I had to realize what a delicate situation he was dealing with and moderated my opinion.
Getting through this was a bit of a slog. I found my attention had to be restrained from wandering.
Triumph of the pedestrian
This follows a week in the life of a Paterson, New Jersey, bus driver, coincidentally named Paterson. One criterion that separates the best movies from the rest for me is whether I lose track of time while watching. That did not happen for me with this movie. One theme, a theme that is true for much of the time for a lot of our lives, is that every day is the same but every day is different. There was too much weight given to "everyday is the same" in this movie.
Paterson writes poems and records his poems in a notebook. Given that poetry plays a central role in Patterson's life, it plays a central role in the movie. Unfortunately it did not capture my imagination, since Paterson's poetry was as pedestrian as his life. The poetry for the movie was written by New York poet Ron Padgett. The problem I have had with Padgett's poetry is that he takes a common everyday experience, writes a brief prose summary of the event, and calls it poetry. For example, consider the poem that begins:
We have plenty of matches in our house.
We keep them on hand always.
Currently our favorite brand is Ohio Blue Tip,
though we used to prefer Diamond brand.
That was before we discovered Ohio Blue Tip matches.
They are excellently packaged, sturdy
little boxes with dark and light blue and white labels
with words lettered in the shape of a megaphone,
If that stirs your soul, then you will be much more engaged with this movie than I was. I suppose that Padgett was a good choice for the role of putting the words on the screen, since they make it believable that Paterson, an ordinary person, could have written them.
I appreciate the risk that Jarmusch is taking in making a movie like this. I just wish it had been more engaging. I did like the later scene that recounted a random meeting between Paterson and a Japanese poet whom he encounters on a public park bench. But the Japanese man intuits that Paterson is a poet? Really? Introducing the Japanese poet was only an artifice to help bring the story to a conclusion with the gift of the blank notebook.
Given that a "dog ate my homework" scene is the emotional peak, be prepared for somewhat of a slog to get through this. It seems that an attempt was made to drain this of anything that might move it beyond the pedestrian: the camera work, the music, the acting, the color palette, the story--all pedestrian.
The Stranger (1946)
Interesting filming techniques, story has some weaknesses
Orson Welles plays Charles Rankin, a history teacher in a school for boys in small town Harper, Connecticut. Rankin is actually ex-Nazi Franz Kindler, who was in control of German concentration camps; in fact it was said that Kindler conceived the theory of genocide. I wish that this story could have been played in a lower key. While some ex-Nazis did enter the U.S. after the war (see the book "The Nazis Next Door") it is improbable that such a high level Nazi could have slipped in, untracked, to become an upstanding citizen so quickly after the war (this movie was released less than a year after the end of WWII). And how was it that he had no trace of a German accent? He was engaged to be married to a local woman who was the daughter of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice no less. I doubt that at a dinner party Kindler would have been so willing to provide the somewhat sympathetic analysis that Germans saw themselves as innocent victims of world envy and hatred, conspired against and set upon by inferior peoples and and inferior nations. It would have been more believable to me to have had Kindler be a lower level Nazi scheduled to marry a middle class American housewife who was not the daughter of a nationally-known father. Surely a person as high-profile as Kindler would have been a candidate for the Nuremberg Trials.
If you accept the setup, then the movie has things to offer. As you might expect from any movie that Orson Welles is involved with would have interesting filming techniques. This movie is in the film noir style--unusual camera angles, high contrast black and white, much use of shadows, and thriller aspects building to fantastic final scenes.
Unfortunately it is easy to remember Welles as the overweight pitch man for merchandise on TV, most notably Paul Masson wine, but it is good to be reminded here that the young Welles was an attractive man and a decent actor. It was an unusual choice to have Loretta Young play Kindler's fiancée, but I thought she was well cast and carried the part well. Edward G. Robinson plays the agent trying to track down Kindler's whereabouts and, as always, Edward G. Robinson plays Edward G. Robinson.
There is some archival footage of concentration camp horrors. No matter how often I have seen such it is always shocking and sickening to see it. I can remember that the first time I had seen such footage was in "Judgment at Nuremberg." I can only imagine that this footage was especially hard to digest by audiences in 1946.
If you are like me who did not know that paper chase was a game, you will see such a game played here.
A straight story detailing how a German war criminal could wind up getting into the U.S. and settling down would be interesting.
A Taste of Honey (1961)
Good to see this excellent film is now on a Criterion Collection Blu-Ray disc.
This reaches a level of realism rarely seen. The story revolves around Jo, a lower class young girl in Manchester, England in the early 1960s. In the beginning Jo lives with her alcoholic mother Helen in a run-down flat and, when her mother takes up with a loser, Jo gets a gut load and moves out on her own and finds a job in a shoe store. She becomes romantically involved with Jimmy, a black ship's cook. She gets pregnant, only to have Jimmy ship out and leave her to deal with the situation alone. Along the way Jo meets Geoffrey, a young man who moves in with her. If this all sounds a bit too downbeat for you, be aware that this film has a lot of qualities that make it worth seeing.
Both Rita Tushingham, as Jo, and Murray Melvin, as Geoffrey, won best actor awards at Cannes in 1962. These were well deserved in my opinion. I was taken with Tushingham. She has an interesting face and, in her first film roll here, she is able to express a lot with facial expressions. Frequently filming her in close up is effective. The relationship between Jo and Geoffrey is played with some tenderness. I found Geoffrey's sexuality to be ambiguous. In one scene he tries to kiss Jo and offers to marry her. This she rejects. While Geoffrey does have some stereotypical behavior patterns associated with gays, I found that there was only one scene that more than hints at Geoffrey's homosexuality, and that is when Jo's mother's mate comes into Jo's flat, sees that Jo is pregnant, looks at Geoffrey and says, "Whose this, the father?" and, after looking at Geoffrey says, "Oh, dear, no." Since homosexual acts were illegal in England until 1967, portraying overt homosexuality on screen in this movie would have been controversial.
There is some sharp dialog, especially between Jo and her mother. When Helen announces the she is going to get married, Jo asks, "You're not getting married in a church are you?" to which Helen answers, "Why? You coming to throw bricks at us?" When Helen puts on a fur and asks, "Jo, how do you like this?" Jo responds, "Bet somebody's missing their cat."
Walter Lassally's black-and-white cinematography is to be savored-- he understands that art form. There are some scenes that are powerful in black and white that would be unremarkable in color. I am thinking in particular of one scene that has Jimmy walking across a bridge that has him in black against a bright background. This scene emphasizes the sadness of his leaving. Many scenes, like the last scene with the sparklers, are so well lighted that they last in memory. Lassally also knows how to get the most out of Tushingham's close ups.
Director Richardson, who was nominated for best director at Cannes for this movie, was on a real roll at this time in his career. Consider: Tom Jones (1962), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), A Taste of Honey (1961), Sanctuary (1961), The Entertainer (1960), Look Back in Anger (1959). He also worked with some of the best actors of his generation, like Lawrence Olivier, Richard Burton, and Albert Finney.
Some of the themes treated, like interracial relationships and hints at homosexuality were daring at the time. You would think that this would make the movie dated, but it is not like those issues have been totally resolved some sixty years later.
The one negative for me was the score--it would be more appropriate for a lighthearted Cary Grant, Kathryn Hepburn comedy. "A Taste of Honey" is a serious look at a time and place. It does have some humor, but much of that comes from sarcastic dialog. There are vestiges of this having been a stage play, particularly in the final scenes, but the filming makes this a work of cinema, especially by filming using outdoor locations.
The Criterion Collection DVD contains interviews with Tushingham and Melvin (filmed in 2016), and Lassally (filmed in 1998). I usually find such interviews a bit of a bore where the actors praise everyone, but these interviews I thought were interesting. Tushingham had things to say about working with Richardson. The interview with Melvin is fantastic--he in one interesting dude. I liked his comments, "I was the start of gay pride of 1958. It's all down to me, honey. It's on my shoulders, and I'm very proud of it." The interview with Lassally shows that he was very concerned with film quality and how much he thought about the filming. Some of his work here was pioneering in the use of low light photography, hand held cameras, and different film stocks. He was so interested in getting contrasts right that in the scene with Jo and Geoffrey under the arch he actually put some sand in a field in the background so that he could get Jo in well-defined silhouette.
Little Men (2016)
The joys and perils of an adolescent friendship
In the first scene 13-year-old Jake learns that his grandfather Sal has died. Jake and his parents, Brian and Kathy, subsequently move into Sal's 2nd story Brooklyn apartment. Below the apartment is a dress shop that is a one-person show run by seamstress Leonor Calvelli.
A close friendship develops between Leonor's son Tony and Jake. Michael Barbieri's performance as Tony is captivating-- who wouldn't like this boisterous and guileless youth? Jake is more reserved and quiet. Bonding between complimentary personality types can be intense, particularly between young teens like Tony and Jake. There are some wonderful scenes that show how Jake and Tony delight in just being together, like a scene that follows them along a sidewalk with Jake on skates and Tony on a bicycle. That scene is augmented by a score that perfectly captures the carefree emotion.
Relationships like Jake and Tony's are more common than are treated in film and literature I think, particularly between boys. Two examples that come to mind are the relationship between Jean and Julien in the movie "Au Revoir Les Enfants" and between Gene and Phineas in the novel "A Separate Peace."
Just following the interactions of these young boys would probably not provide enough drama to sustain a full length movie, but I do wish that there had been more time devoted to their endearing relationship before the drama came from the interactions between the adults. Brian's sister Audrey was set on getting more rent money from Leonor and Audrey and Kathy put the heat on Brian to deal with Leonor on the matter. Leonor is just barely making it and would be forced out of her shop, and likely winding up in a sweatshop, if having to fork over more rent. When Jake and Tony understand what is going on they see that their friendship is threatened. Brian is squeezed from four directions--his wife, his sister, his renter, and his son. This is one of those situations that make you ask what you would have done in his situation. I came to view Brian as a wimp, since I think there were options where all the emotional damage could have been avoided. Instead of being dismissed out of hand, Jake made a suggestion that I thought should have been seriously considered. As is, there will be a permanent rift between Brian, his sister, his wife, and his son.
I am not sure whether there was any intended implication that Jake may be gay, but the scene at the dance where Tony pursued a girl while Jake withdrew to himself would hint at that. Also when some of Tony's friends taunted him about his relationship with Jake not being strictly platonic, Tony went on the attack.
There are lots of themes that bubble up in this seemingly simple movie-- class, race, family dynamics, the downside of capitalism, and not taking the thoughts and emotions of young adults as seriously as deserved. A final scene that has Jake looking across an atrium to see Tony, without any attempt to connect, is symbolic of the divide that separated them. But I was disappointed that Jake did not have the courage to take an opportunity to reconnect with Tony. I could see no reason why the two boys could not renew their friendship after the storm had blown over.
Sometimes big things come in small packages
In watching this it occurred to me how undeliberative I have become in accepting quality movie workmanship. This small movie illustrates the point--it is so well done that I came to appreciate its technical qualities
only when I tried to come up with any negative comments.
The movie details an event in the life of a Keld, a Danish plumber. That event is set in motion when Keld's wife leaves him. Keld is more of a reactive person than an active one and that is probably a reason his wife left him, although we don't get too many details on that.
Bjarne Henriksen plays Keld with grace and gentleness in a captivating and nuanced performance--he can say a lot with facial expressions. I imagine that it is harder to play everyday people like Keld than bigger-than-life characters having big, dramatic scenes.
Keld reacts to his new bachelorhood by frequenting a Chinese restaurant on a daily basis where he gets to know Feng, the owner (Lin Kun Wu). There is subtle humor--after running through all of the 21 selections on the menu in numeric order, Feng asks Keld what should be done next and, after some hesitation, Keld decides to start over. Feng, sensing that Keld is a kindly soul, asks him for a big favor--to marry is younger sister Ling (Vivian Wu) so that she can get Danish citizenship. The marriage is to be "pro forma," but in a sequence of beautifully filmed scenes, what does start out as "pro forma" turns into a delicate love. Maybe this story line is a bit predictable, but the relationship between Ling and Keld is developed so believably that it's hard not to be taken up with it. However, the ending is not predictable.
When Keld's wife wants to come back, she is led to understand the meaning of the idiom, "Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true." She got her wished-for divorce, but that led to her being cut off from Keld later when she wanted him.
The relationships between Feng and his son, and Keld and his son, offer commentary on the changing cultural dynamics of such relationships as experienced in a Chinese family contrasted with a Danish family. It is interesting to see the difference between Feng's extended family and Keld's rather lonely life.
The score, while engaging, often seemed more lighthearted than what the story-line would call for.
There are no villains in this vary human tale.
Huppert's performance was the only redeeming value for me
Isabelle Huppert plays Michèle, the woman referenced in the title. Some reviewers have remarked on there being humor in this, but I would not advise anyone to go to this expecting any knee slappers. The opening scene features a brutal rape that makes it hard to imagine its being filmed more graphically. That scene sets the tone. If you are looking for sadomasochism, infidelity, lesbianism, and masturbation, you will find it here. Mix in some repugnant scenes from a video game being developed by Michèle's company, a car crash, and Michele's detailing the exploits of the mass killings of her father and you have a movie that is difficult to watch.
Maybe the humor is to view this as a satire on a certain segment of upscale, tech-savvy French society, but if that was the intended takeaway, it flew over my head.
Huppert gives a strong, nuanced performance and that was pretty much the only thing I could appreciate. Michèle is a woman who, after the initial rape, picks up the phone and, instead of calling the police, orders out. That certainly turns the current attitude toward rape on its head, until you understand that Michèle has some private reasons for not going public. But the scene does alert the audience of Michèle's being a strong-willed force of nature. I can't think of any admirable male character in this. Is part of the message, "Men bad?"
In sitting through a difficult movie like this, I hope for some compensatory reward, but this movie did not pay off for me.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Deserves its awards
The main attraction is Casey Affleck's Oscar-winning performance.
When we meet Lee Chandler (Affleck) he is personally closed down, working as a handyman for an apartment complex in Quincy, Massachusetts. He is rude to some of his clients, exhibiting a latent anger. In an early flashback Lee is seen affectionately playing with his nephew Patrick aboard the family's lobster boat. For the first part of the movie I was left to wonder what caused the personality shift, that was a hook that kept my interest until the causative tragic event is revealed in a flashback. Credit has to be given to Affleck since he plays two different characters, the Lee before the event and the Lee afterward.
As the story develops the focus is on the relationship between Lee and his nephew Patrick. Lucas Hedges is surprisingly good as the teen-aged Patrick, earning an Oscar nomination. Michele Williams, as Lee's wife Randi, also earned an Oscar nomination; the acting carries this movie a long way. But wait, there is more (as the TV commercials say)--an Oscar win for Kenneth Lonergan's original screenplay and an Oscar nomination for him as best director.
There is much more to be appreciated beyond the fine acting and powerful story. Filming the movie in Manchester-by-the-Sea makes that setting an additional character. The environment is often used as counterpoint to some of the emotional scenes--a quick cut to an ocean-scape or the serenity of the small New England town allows for digesting what has gone before. The scenes in local bars add a feeling of authenticity. The light Boston accents ground this in the local environment so that it is hard to picture how the story would play out in a different setting.
The cinematography does not call attention to itself beyond being professionally done. On second viewing I paid more attention to the lighting and realized that care had been taken with this, particularly in some of the closeups of faces. The score ranges from Handel and Albinoni to popular. The classical pieces provide counterpoint to some of the more emotional scenes in much the same way that the location shots do.
There is no sugarcoating in the portrayal of the effect that tragedy has on Lee's life. Each person deals with grief in his or her own way and I found Lee's behavior believable and understandable. One of the beauties of the story is how subtle hints are given as to potential hope for Lee. The first time he smiles, later in the movie, is a breakthrough. An affectionate pat on Patrick's shoulder signals a minor thawing of Lee's chilly isolation. But the story does not reach any expected conclusion. It is heartbreaking when Lee says to Patrick, "I can't beat it."
See it, even if you know the story
I saw the "60 Minutes" segment about the true story behind this movie and was thinking I would skip it for that reason, but given the good ratings it has gotten, I decided to give it a shot. I found the dramatization got me much more emotionally involved than the documentary.
This story of Saroo Brierly is presented in two parts, separated by 25 years. As the young Saroo, age five, the movie is immeasurably helped by the outstanding performance by the endearing Sunny Pawar. The risk of having a first time young actor carry half of a major movie paid off. It seems that the quality of child actors and young actors has improved impressively in recent years. I am thinking of the three kids in "The Tree of Life," for example.
The older Saroo is played by Dev Patel, who was nominated for an Oscar for actor in a supporting role. Nicole Kidman was nominated for best actress in a supporting role for her portrayal of Saroo's foster mother in Australia. The movie itself got a total of six Oscar nominations, so it comes with credentials.
This is somewhat of a travelogue with scenes being filmed in various places in India, West Bengal, and Australia (particularly Tasmania). The artful cinematography of Greig Fraser (also an Oscar nominee) adds much to the impact of the movie.
I think anyone who had a happy childhood and moved away from where he or she grew up always has nostalgia for the place of their beginning. With maturity also comes the desire to know one's ancestors, to know where you came from. Those two themes infuse this story to the extent that most audiences should be able to establish a strong emotional identification with Saroo.
Be sure to stay to the end where footage of the real life people is shown.
La peau douce (1964)
I expected more from a Truffaut movie
There is not much original in this story of a Parisian extramarital affair. Pierre (Jean Desailly) and Franca (Nelly Benedetti) are the married couple and Nicole (Françoise Dorléac) is Pierre's love interest. Pierre is a well known editor, author, and critic. Pierre is quite famous to the extent that his appearance to give an introduction to the movie "With André Gide" draws a sellout crowd. As part of this event Pierre is expected to entertain a group of local intelligentsia at a dinner. That scene had the ring of truth and Truffaut must have written it based on the many times he had been in similar situations. I wish there had been more supporting evidence for Pierre's fame, since I was being asked to buy into it; believing it was essential, since that is the main thing that I could see that Pierre had that could attract such a woman as Nicole. Pierre comes off as a mild family man, devoted to his daily habitual pleasures. Outside of one or two scenes there was no on-screen chemistry between Desailly and Dorléac. I also found the discord between Pierre and his wife more scripted than believable. The final scene was poorly motivated.
On the positive side the Criterion Collection print is high quality, showing off the skilled use of camera angles and film contrast. Those who appreciate black and white photography should enjoy this example. There is use of quick cuts in an attempt to add some excitement to the affair, but not enough to keep this from being but a minor variation on a time-worn theme.
Coming after "The 400 Blows," "Shoot the Piano Player," and "Jules and Jim," I was hoping for more from this.
This is the story of the experiences of two brothers who join the same college fraternity, one year apart. I think that it did not take much talent to come up with the story. Start off with a violent beating of the younger brother to get the audience's attention, emphasize the hazing events during hell week, toss in some sibling interactions, and end with the fallout from a tragic consequence of the hazing. The acting is pedestrian and there is such a lack of depth to the characters that it is difficult to care about them. The deepest conversation goes along the lines of, "Hey man, how's it going?" followed by "Fine."
The "based on true events" comment at the beginning does not add much value, since what is presented does not go beyond stereotypical material.
Several years ago I read the book "Goat Brothers" by Larry Colton. I thought this movie might be based on that book, but, aside from the one small part of the book dealing with hell week, they are miles apart. The book traces the lives of five fraternity brothers over a period of twenty-five years and, opposed to "Goat," you wind up really knowing them.
Un secret (2007)
Intimate World War II era French family drama
This is the story of a French Jewish family that spans the years from the mid-1930s to the mid-1980s. The opening scenes, taking place in 1955, introduce us to two of the principal characters, Francois at age 7 and his mother Tania. Francois is seen as shy, skinny, and nonathletic, which is a contrast with his mother's being, strong, beautiful and an accomplished swimmer. Soon the scene shifts to 1985 where Francois is dealing with a shy son of his own. There is an unexpectedly touching scene where Francois' son tenderly grasps his father's arm while seated next to him at a table. The 1985 scenes are filmed in black and white and that helps in keeping the time frames straight, since there are many time shifts. In movies that jump around in time I always wonder what the effect would have been to present the story in a linear way. But, since we are kept in the dark about the secret referenced in the title, the plot device of jumping back and forth in time is a logical plot device and it required my attention.
In 1955 we are introduced to Francois' father Maxime and Louise (a close family friend). Maxime is a handsome, athletic guy and that advances the theme of Francois' being mismatched in physical ability to Maxime and Tania. Francois feels that he is a disappointment to his dad. As portrayed, Maxime was in fact disappointed with Francois; a big reason why is revealed in the flashbacks to the 1930s.
Early on in the 1930s Maxime is seen wanting to deny his Jewishness. It was not clear to me if he could see what was coming down the pike with the Nazis or whether his denial was coming from some more philosophical, intellectual, or intuitive basis. In one voice-over Francois comments, "Playing sports made dad hope he could erase his origins." In any case, how the characters relate to their Jewishness is at the very heart of the story.
There is no end of stories that have come out of the Second World War, even some sixty years later. This movie is one of the better ones that concentrates on a single family's experiences rather than staging big battle scenes. The movie is based on the book, "Memory: A Novel," by Philippe Grimbert; we are told at the beginning that the story and its main characters are based on true events. I found the movie more engaging knowing that.
The acting by all concerned is first rate, as is the filming. The unobtrusive score by Zbigniew Preisner is effective.
I found the time sequencing, together with the large number of characters, made a first viewing challenging, particularly with having to read the English subtitles. A second viewing was rewarding.